High protein, low carbohydrate diets have gained large followings, particularly since the success of popular regimes including the Atkins and the Dukan diet. But getting the right amount of protein is important as if is relatively easy to end up eating too much protein for your needs which may result in weight gain.
Proteins and carbohydrates are essential elements necessary for a well-balanced diet. Carbohydrates provide a ready source of available energy but protein also provides about 16% of our daily energy. However the main job of protein is the repair and growth of muscles and tissues.
If you want to increase your protein while reducing the carbs in your diet, you can easily do this by making a few simple food swaps.
How much protein do you need?
In the UK the average daily protein consumption is around 88g for men and 64g for women which is generally more than sufficient for most people. The Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) for protein for adults aged 19-50 is around 56g and 45g per day for men and women respectively.
Where do we get our protein from?
Protein can be found in every single type of food. In the UK, the biggest source comes from meat and meat products, followed by cereals, dairy, veg, nuts and seeds, then fish then eggs. Plant based sources of protein are becoming more widely consumed and these include foods such as tempeh, tofu, nuts and seeds.
Proteins to increase
When increasing your protein intake, choose low fat sources rather than high fat if you're trying to lose weight. This will help keep your intake of unhealthy saturated fats down, plus choosing lower fat animal proteins means weight for weight, you’re getting a higher concentration of protein.
The richest sources of protein can be found in cheese, eggs, lean meat and poultry, fish and shellfish. And plant based protein from peanut butter, dried beans, peas, legumes, tofu, tempeh and nuts and seeds. If you're trying to lose weight, choose white fish, eggs, tofu and tempeh.
Carbohydrates to reduce
Carbohydrates to reduce are mainly refined grains which you can omit completely from your diet without suffering adverse affects. Refined grains are wholegrains which have had their outer coating removed during the milling process, leaving the remaining grain virtually devoid of essential nutrients. These are often added back in, as with white bread for example. Refined grains can be found in white bread, cakes, biscuits, doughnuts and muffins for example. Other carbohydrates to reduce are white rice, pasta and potatoes.
Making food swaps
Breakfast is often high in carbohydrates, especially if it consists of food such as cereal and toast. Eating scrambled eggs with smoked salmon or an egg white omelette with a little grated cheese is high in protein but has no carbohydrate. A chia seed pudding made with almond milk and a scoop of protein powder provides a decent protein hit.
When choosing lunch and dinner, include a serving of skinless chicken, lean meat, fish or tofu with at least one of these meals. Forget about bread based sandwiches and swap to mixed salads with a serving of chickpeas or lentils, with a sprinkling of sunflower or pumpkin seeds and a dressing of olive oil and apple cider vinegar. Swap high carbohydrate rice and potatoes for high protein beans or peas which are also a good source of dietary fibre.
Instead of snacking on high carbohydrate crisps, biscuits or muffins, eat small handfuls of nuts or seeds which are not only good sources of protein, they contain fibre and provide a useful supply of essential vitamins and minerals.
Increasing protein while reducing carbohydrates in your diet is a relatively easy process which involves making sensible food swaps where necessary. Reducing refined carbohydrates is a good idea, and where possible, these should be replaced with wholegrain and plant based foods.